In a bid to combat growing competition from independent charter schools, Superintendent Bernard Taylor on Thursday trumpeted the school system’s efforts to help children academically and laid out potential new instructional offerings at 17 schools ranging from digital puppetry to Lego art.
“This district cannot afford to lose students to untried, untested experiments,” Taylor said.
“It’s time for us to tell the truth. For too long, we have played nice in the sandbox.”
A “Right Choice” school fair focusing on public schools in north Baton Rouge will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 14 at Cortana Mall.
Taylor’s move is aimed at meeting the challenge posed by charter schools, which are public schools run by private groups via contracts, or charters.
Baton Rouge is home to 23 charter schools. Two more charters are operating in the larger Baton Rouge metro area and many more are on their way. Ten of the schools are Type 1 charters, meaning the school system oversees their contracts.
Taylor, whose three-year contract leading the East Baton Rouge Parish school system expires June 30, has grown increasingly critical of charter schools during his tenure.
He has decried the financial drain from students who jump ship and, in some cases, return to the school system after funding has already gone elsewhere. He’s also questioned whether they are offering anything truly different from traditional public schools.
The new offerings laid out Thursday are centered around what Taylor refers to as “families of schools.” In 2012, he proposed creating four such school clusters, but only ended up launching one, in the Scotlandville area.
Now, he’s suggesting creating three more. One in the Broadmoor area is to be called “The Boulevard.” The two others are centered around Park Elementary and Brookstown Middle Schools.
The proposal for the Park Family of Schools suggests adding two more weeks to the school year at Park Elementary, as well as at Capitol and Melrose elementaries and Capitol Middle School.
In the four schools in the Brookstown Family of Schools, different options would be offered at different schools, ranging from music production at Brookstown Middle to Web design at Claiborne Elementary.
Each family grouping of schools would allow parents to choose among schools in that group. Even if they later move, their children could continue to go to their first school choice as long as they live within the boundaries for that family group of schools.
Before the schools go online, though, Taylor plans to hold meetings in the communities that would be affected to gather feedback from the public.
“We need you to get involved now,” Taylor said.
Board member Tarvald Smith said he wants to wait to see what comes from those meetings before deciding whether to support the changes.
Board member Jill Dyason, meanwhile, wanted the price tag.
“I love all of these ideas, but I want to see the budget impact,” Dyason said.
Deputy Superintendent Michael Haggen introduced several school system administrators to the board who he said are highly skilled at pinpointing where children are falling short and at redirecting their instruction.
“I don’t believe there are any charters in the community that can do what these ladies are doing,” Haggen said.
Haggen also attacked the idea that the school system is top-heavy with administrators, a frequent accusation of charter school advocates.